All eyes will be on Frankie Edgar and his move to 145 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship keeps alive its tradition of ensuring fight fans enter Super Bowl Sunday with a hangover, as it brings together another loaded pay-per-view on the eve of the big game. Featuring a blockbuster featherweight title bout, along with appearances by two former champions and two others who once fought for promotional gold, UFC 156 “Aldo vs. Edgar” goes down this Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
How We Got Here: Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar finally heeded the endless pleading from UFC President Dana White, fans, coaches and diet books everywhere. The New Jersey native decided to push aside the second helping of bacon and drop to 145 pounds to challenge Jose Aldo for the featherweight throne. Always undersized for 155, Edgar is a welcome addition to a fledgling division in desperate need of star power on viable challengers for a champion who has won 14 fights in a row ... Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will duke it out in the co-main event. The historically dominant fighters are in the rare position of trying to get back on the winning track; Evans is coming off a one-sided loss to 205-pound champion Jon Jones, while “Minotoro” has lost two of three ... Antonio Silva is marked as the sacrificial lamb for the return of Alistair Overeem. The hulking Dutchman was next in line for a title shot after he kicked Brock Lesnar into retirement, but a Nevada Athletic Commission suspension curbed that enthusiasm. The former Strikeforce champion is all but guaranteed a crack at the UFC heavyweight crown if he leaves this one with his hand raised.
Useless Fact: Edgar has been the betting underdog six times in his last eight bouts. Despite his 5-2-1 record in those fights, oddsmakers never have faith in the guy. Maybe it’s his size; maybe it’s his style of fighting; maybe it’s his mellow personality. Whatever the case, Toms River, N.J., should be home to the richest people in America by now.
Say What: Evans is quietly putting together one of the best careers in MMA history. He has fought the cream of the crop at 205 pounds and has begun fielding questions about the possibility of moving to the middleweight division to face pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva. During a pre-fight media call for UFC 156, Evans admitted the idea was alluring on a number of fronts: “It’d be a tremendous honor to have held the belt in two different divisions, but [it would] also [be about] the chance to compete against Anderson Silva; he’s one of my favorite fighters to watch. I get excited every single time I have a chance to watch him fight. When my career is all said and done, I want to be able to say I competed against some of the best guys ever in history. For me to get the chance to compete against Anderson Silva would just be an amazing experience and something I’ll take with me forever.”
Mass Exodus: Edgar joins 53 other fighters listed as featherweights on UFC.com. Of those 54, 12 have competed at least one time at 155 pounds in the UFC, including former title challenger Kenny Florian, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 alum Justin Lawrence and perennial lightweight contender Clay Guida. The lightweight division is bursting at the seams with talent and boasts an 82-man roster. If physically able to drop 10 pounds and relocate to featherweight, why would any lightweight choose to swim with the great white sharks at 155? The featherweight class needs new stars to vie for the title; the lightweight division needs a cattle prod just to corral all the potential contenders.
Holding Pattern: Evans is one of the top non-champion draws for the UFC. The former titleholder has headlined pay-per-views against other box office draws, like Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz. In fact, this will mark the first time that Evans will not be part of a main event since UFC 73 back in July 2007, ending a streak of nine consecutive headlining appearances. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 winner finds himself in the co-main event at UFC 156. Since losing to Jones, the Blackzilians representative has been forced to play a waiting game. A matchup with “The Spider” for the middleweight championship has been floated, but Silva’s immediate future remains unclear. A rematch with “Bones” is certainly possible, but he is currently tied up with Chael Sonnen. Should Jones ever vacate the 205-pound title for a move to the heavyweight division, Evans would be on a short list of contenders to fill the void. Fighting Nogueira, a 36-year-old underdog in the midst of a 13-month layoff, will serve to keep Evans busy. Can “Minotoro” catch him twiddling his thumbs?
Go Ahead, Book the Immediate Rematch: Let us call a spade a spade. Edgar has appeared in back-to-back-to-back rematches; that is six fights against just three opponents. His upset against B.J. Penn at UFC 112 was labeled a robbery, so a do-over was ordered. An immediate rematch was a no-brainer after “The Answer” battled Gray Maynard to a draw at UFC 125. By the time Edgar surrendered his title to Benson Henderson on narrow scorecards at UFC 144, he had built up so much goodwill, he probably could have demanded a rematch in his own backyard and Zuffa brass would have capitulated. The guy just has a style of fighting that lends itself to razor-thin decisions, as he strikes with volume but oftentimes little damage and scores takedowns but rarely controls foes on the mat. UFC 156 will unfold under the watchful eye of a state commission that hired two judges who thought they saw Timothy Bradley defeat Manny Pacquiao. Throw in referee Steve Mazzagatti, the third man in the Octagon for the Aldo-Edgar fight, and you have the potential for problems.
Awards Watch: Edgar has become a master at scoring “Fight of the Night” bonuses after three- and five-round wars. In addition, his footwork makes him an easy mark for Aldo’s leg kicks. A couple close-ups of the bruising likely to form around the thigh of “The Answer” will give this fight the layer of toughness it needs to edge out other thrill-seeking matchups on the card, like Joseph Benavidez-Ian McCall ... “Knockout of the Night” seems all but a cinch for Overeem. While “Bigfoot” Silva is no walk in the park for anyone, his lack of head movement combined with his enormous head makes for a tantalizing target ... Do not be suckered into thinking the Demian Maia-Jon Fitch bout will end with a choke from the Brazilian. Chew on this: Fitch has not been submitted since his 2002 professional debut, and Maia has delivered only one tapout win in his past nine outings. Expect one of the wrestlers on the preliminary portion of the card to wear down his opponent and put him away for the “Submission of the Night.”